.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Spicy Chocolate Gingerbread

A busy weekend of music, beginning by going to the Mahler 3 with the Melbourne Sypmony, in which a friend of ours was playing, then Arvo Part rehearsals Saturday morning, onto an outing to see A's father conduct the Symphony Under The Stars concert, then a bit of Josquin and Tallis tonight at Evensong. And this isn't even very busy yet; the 2 weeks leading up to Easter will be frantic!

We're in the season of free outdoor concerts here at the moment. There's jazz-in-the-park, cinema-in-the-park, theatre-in-the-park and concerts-in-the-park (not the same park, obviously!). Last night was an orchestral concert full of big pieces good for outdoor performances for a huge crowd who had all appeared to bring champagne, strawberries and young children...it was very family friendly...the little kiddies had a ball listening to the orchestra and trying to climb onto the stage! Everyone was relaxed and planning to have a good time.

I decided to try a cake I had seen in Nigella's book, Feast, to bring along to accompany my home-made pate (it freezes well, remember!) and crackers. Outdoor concerts are probably the one classical music venue where it doesn't matter if you crunch and chew your way through an entire piece!
When first flicking through the Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame chapter in 'Feast', my eye was caught by the photo and description of the Chocolate Gingerbread; it sounded just like my type of thing; rich, dense, smoky and not too sweet. A chocolate cake for adults with more sophisticated tastes. Yum.
The mixture is so easy to make; it's all done in one saucepan, but make sure you use a very large one. I didn't and got into some troubles on the way. I actually found, tasting the batter at the end, that I didn't find it spicy enough; the cocoa and chocolate chips had dominated and overshadowed the ginger and spices. I didn't want this; I didn't want a chocolate cake. I wanted a spicy, chocolate flavoured gingerbread so I increased the amount of ginger by about 4 times (!! I emptied my jar!) and added about a 1 1/2 teaspoons of chili powder - inspired by things I've heard about chocolate and chili. This is why I've called it a spicy chocolate gingerbread.
I baked it up and took it out of the oven about 3 minutes before I had to leave for the concert; so it was still warm from the oven when we were eating it; gorgeous! It's the type of cake that improves after a day or so, and the piece I had today was even more spectacular.

It's very rich, very moist and soft, but not too sweet; in fact it has an almost bitter edge from the treacle, and a wonderful throat warming aftertaste from the heat of the chili. Despite the huge amount of ginger, it still doesn't taste overwhelmingly like gingerbread; this is definitely a chocolate cake, but a very sophisticated one. I think it'd be excellent with some fresh ginger mixed into the batter, like in Nigella's gingerbread in Domestic Goddess; I'll try this next time.
I had great intentions of making the gingerbeer icing, but just didn't have a chance to get to the shop for ginger ale, so I made a sour lemon icing. The refreshing lemon goes really well with the musky, spicy cake.
This one is definitely a must try!

Spicy Chocolate Gingerbread

'This is very rich, very strong: not for children, but perfect for the rest of us' Nigella Lawson, 'Feast'.

For the cake
175g butter

125g dark brown sugar
200g golden syrup
200g black treacle OR molasses
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger (you may not find these quantities of spices enough. I added quite a bit more)

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/4 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
2 tablespoons warm water

2 eggs
250ml milk
275g plain flour
40g cocoa
175g chocolate chips (preferably dark)
For the icing
250g icing sugar
30g butter
1 tablespoon cocoa
60ml ginger ale (ginger beer)

Preheat oven to 170C and tear off a big piece of baking paper to line the bottom and sides of a roasting tin approx 30x20x5cm deep.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter along with the sugars, golden syrup, treacle or molasses, cloves, cinnamon, chili and ground ginger. In a cup dissolve the bicarb of soda in the water. Take the saucepan off the heat and beat in the eggs, milk and bicarb in its water. Stir in the flour and cocoa and beat with a wooden spoon to mix. Fold in the chocolate chips, pour into the lined tin and bake for about 45 minutes-1 hour until risen and firm. It will be slightly damp underneath the set top and that's the way you want it.

Remove to a wire rack and let cool in the tin. Once cool, make the icing.
Sieve icing sugar. In a heavy-based saucepan heat the butter, cocoa and ginger ale. Once the butter's melted, whisk in the icing sugar. Lift the chocolate gingerbread out of the tin and unwrap the paper. Pour over the icing just to cover the top and cut into fat slabs when set.

Makes about 12 slabs.

Continue reading

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Chicken in Milk

This is a Jamie Oliver recipe that he describes as "a slightly odd, but really fantastic combination, which must be tried". I gave it a go because my brother, of all people, liked the sound of it. He's usually really suspicious of anything I make from a cookbook, but saw this and thought it sounded good. It's supposed to be made with a whole chicken, or chicken pieces with skin on, which probably makes it a much more succulent dish - with crispy skin and all, but all we had at the time was chicken breast, which turned out a little dry. If making this, I don't recommend using breast meat. I think chicken thigh would be perfect, if you want to go the boneless route. I've also heard of a similar dish made with pork, which also sounds interesting.
The combination of the lemon, sage and cinnamon is really unusual, and i think is a Spanish/Portuguese influence? The curds that are created by the milk cooking down are interesting, and possibly not for the faint of heart; I like it though, but then again, I've never been considered faint of heart...

Chicken in Milk - Jamie Oliver :

1 (3 pound/1.5 kilogram) chicken
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces (115 grams / 1 stick) butter
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 good handful fresh sage, leaves picked
2 lemons, finely zested (I stress the finely here...you don't want to eat great chunks of lemon rind with your chicken)
6 garlic cloves, skin left on
1 pint (565 millilitres) milk

Preheat oven to 190 degrees (375 F / Gas 5) and find a snug-fitting pot for the chicken. Season it generously all over with salt and pepper, and fry it in the butter, turning the chicken to get an even colour all over, until golden.
Remove from the heat, put the chicken on a plate, and throw away the butter left in the pot. This will leave you with tasty sticky goodness at the bottom of the pan, which will give you a lovely caramel flavour later on.

Put your chicken back in the pot with the rest of the ingredients, and cook in the preheated oven for 1 1/2 hours. Baste with the cooking juices when you remember. The lemon zest will sort of split the milk, making a sauce.

To serve, pull the meat off the bones and divide it on to your plates. Spoon over plenty of juice and the little curds. Serve with wilted spinach or greens and some mashed potato.
Serves 4.

Continue reading

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Only in Australia?

I was contemplating the 'ingredients' in the packet you see above and suddenly came to the realisation that this interesting little sweet might be something unique to Australia. I'm not sure about this, so I posting an entry on this blog is the best way to find out; I'm sure I haven't seen anything like it overseas (but haven't searched very hard).
It's a small paper envelope filled with what looks like heroin or some nasty banned drug; a white powder anyway and a tiny little plastic spoon. Raelly tiny; the size of a toothpick with a little bowl. Basically it's just icing (powdered) sugar with things added to make it fizzy and tickle your tongue. I remember the lollies called sherbert bombs we bought at the milkbar were the same sort of thing; a nasty waxy lolly filled with fizzy sherbert.
It's such a totally healthy little snack. Just look!

Ingredients: Icing Sugar; Mineral Salts (500, 502); Food Acid (296); Flavour.

Mmmm....look at those numbers. Additives and chemicals. And this mysterious "flavour"? What's that?? And yet, underneath this list it reads Fyna foods: Quality is our finest ingredient. Mmm, yes...no doubt they source finest quality chemicals and additives. It's the very least us discerning shoppers expect!
My uncle occasionally brings some over when he visits, as a memory of childhood and a few days ago I found a few when I was rummaging for a sugar hit. I went through 2 packets (they're very small!) before I thought to look at the ingredients, and then felt a bit ill. Bleeeachh; I'd just been eating pure processed sugar and chemicals...and we sell this to little kiddies?? No wonder they're always hyped up! I did like the scary picture on the front; Neil is such a totally nerdy name that it really makes me laugh (is nerdy an Aussie term??).
So, to in answer to my curiosity, is this a uniquely Australian unhealthy little snack, or are there similar things around the world? What kind of completely unhealthy, processed, refined, empty-energy sugary treats do you have where you're from?
(This stuff could be the perfect addition to Anne's Is My Blog Taboo entry...yummy additives!)

A comment from Mike in Florida noted that cans of steak and onions must be a Aussie thing, as they couldn't be found in the US (Florida at least) which prompted me to take a photo of a can and post it. Here it is - more Australian trashy processed food, but this time this one's really yummy. This is the key ingredient when we make our meat pies in our pie maker. It's very tasty and quite salty (which I like). Again, the salt and fat contents are probably sky high, but it's not an everyday sort of food for us. Even around here cans of this stuff are not regarded very highly as a desirable food! So again, is this another uniquely Australian type of processed food, or can you find cans of cooked steak and onion in gravy in other countries? (I imagine the UK would have something similar.)

Continue reading

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Worthy Is The Lamb...!

..that was slain!...
(apologies to G F Handel and Revelations.....)
I made some comments recently, somewhere, about the Australian fondness for lamb. It's been said that for a very long time Australia's economy 'rode on the sheeps' back' (which included a lot of wool, too), and all good Aussie families grew up on lamb chops on the barbie and roast Lamb for family dinners. Lamb (or more usually, mutton) was the most affordable meat in this country for a very long time.

Nowdays lamb is more expensive, and not the bargain meat it once was, which is due to a number of economic and climatic reasons amongst others. It also has to compete with beef and chicken, which are both easily affordable. But its popularity hasn't changed at all; Australians still really love their lamb! Especially young Spring lamb; Mutton and hogget are almost impossible to buy any longer. I'm still surprised when I hear of people in other countries who don't eat it, or have never tried it (especially USA...I think the beef lobby has a real stronghold there) and I read somewhere that in some countries lamb would be more popular if people knew how to cook it. But it's easy! Especially on a grill or pan; just cook it like a steak to the same degree of doneness you like your steak. In fact, treating it in a similar way as beef is pretty standard, I think.

Anyway, last night I had the most spectacular lamb chops I can remember in a long time. They were lamb rib chops crusted with a savoury herby topping and baked in the oven. These were astoundingly good lamb chops. The were the Lamb Chops of Perfection! (imagine that in a Hollywood movie-theatre commercial voice!) We used lamb rib chops, which have a convenient little handle to hold when you're tearing every little shred of meat and crispy skin off the bone...mmmmm.

Get your lamb chops -they don't have to be rib chops like above; those gorgeous thick loin chops with the little tails would be excellent too (but not those nasty BBQ chops) and make up a topping of breadcrumbs, grated parmesan cheese, garlic, fresh sage, salt, pepper & a little olive oil to moisten and press onto the chops. Place in a hot oven for about 20 minutes until the skin is crisp and golden and the inside is pink and juicy inside (you never want to overcook lamb...but maybe that's just my preference). Really, these were one of those food-defining moments where everything just comes together and you think 'wow!'. Oh yeah, and we had some crisp vegetables and rice with them...but they were nothing exciting compared to the Glory Of The Lamb (bonus points to any of you who immediately started humming "Worthy Is The Lamb that was slain" from Handel's Messiah. lol!)
Okay, I know the plating above is nothing special, but I was really hungry and not going to wait a minute longer to eat!

Continue reading

Monday, February 21, 2005

Is My Blog Taboo? IMBB12

Due to lower than usual numbers, Carlo over at My Latest Supper has extended the submission date until about Thursday for the latest Is My Blog Burning theme. So, this is your chance - go on! Write about something you really hate, or something you hate but are willing to try again just to see if your taste buds have had a turnover, or if it's just as revolting as you remembered it.
Alternatively, write about something that you enjoy eating that others would find disgusting (I'm thinking of some of the Scandinavian food bloggers here....your lovely picked fish dishes, perhaps?)
Or, you could just join in with what seems to be a theme for this round of IMBB...three entries (including my own, Alberto at Il Forno and Sam at Becks and Posh ) have featured Marmite or Vegemite....maybe now's your chance to finally give it a try. Perhaps you can weigh into the debate of which is better (or worse!) - Vegemite or Marmite? I'm sure Sam and I would love to instruct you on the finer points of optimum Marmite/Vegemite ratio to bread and butter!
Go on - be game. And send your entry off to Carlo; he's ready and waiting.

Continue reading

Saturday, February 19, 2005

IMBB12: Vegemite Risotto & Smelly Old Underwear

Cabbage with Cumin

Vegemite Risotto

This month's IMBB essentially has the theme of creating something disgusting or taboo for somebody not of your culture or writing about something you really hate yourself. Initially I thought I'd find that difficult. I mean, I live in Australia which a real cultural melting pot for cuisine, and the Australian character being what it is, we just take everything in our stride. "She'll be right, mate. Looks tasty!" Ahh, the great Aussie laissez-faire. But, with some thought I came up with two ideas. One to use a food ingredient I HATE WITH A BURNING PASSION (sorry, got carried away by my hatred) and one for a dish that will disgust many readers out there, and may even be considered taboo by the Italian establishment!

Something that will disgust many people, especially Italians!:
Vegemite Risotto:
There is one significant dish I grew up with that I used to love taunting school friends with when they would ask what I liked to eat.....Vegemite Risotto. Yep, you read that correctly and you're probably reeling in disgust. But I have to put my foot down and say WAIT! LISTEN!

You see, my father's family are Italian and came to Australia when he was very young. They are from Northern Italy, at the foot of the Alps in the Veneto region, where rice and polenta are staple food. Risotto was a standard dish of his childhood, but often he'd come home late at night and want something warm and fulfilling like risotto....but who could be bothered with all that stock and stirring rubbish? This is when he hit on the idea of Vegemite. I think he had the kind of thought like "Well, I'm an Aussie now. I like Vegemite. I think Vegemite in my risotto would taste pretty bloody good!" Who knows what he'd been drinking that night, but he tried it and just loved it. Naturally, *everyone* he mentioned it to nearly retched in disgust, but when you think about it, it's not so weird really. Vegemite is really just a concentrated vegetable stock, so stirring a spoon through cooked rice, is not so crazy. My Aussie grandmother remembers poor kids in her street during the Depression only being able to afford Vegemite soup for dinner - just a spoon of Vegemite mixed with hot water. Blaah.

Whenever mum was having a night off from cooking, or when dad had a craving he'd whip out the saucepans and get going. It was about all he could cook well, apart from vanilla custard and BBQs. In keeping with his bastardised Australian-ised dish, he also threw all classic risotto making technique out the window. None of this adding stock slowly bull$hit! Not for him! Italians rolled in their graves everywhere. All he'd do is boil up some risotto rice, drain it, and then stir through a huge knob of butter, a large spoon or two of Vegemite and lots and lots of freshly grated parmesan. Healthy it most certainly is not! Nor is it photogenic; it was always a dull, pale brown colour like poo. But it was simple, television food that filled any craving; it was hot, creamy, salty and filling. It was yummy stuff.

Now that my dad is no longer with us, it's my younger brother who has kept up the tradition of Vegemite Risotto, and I'll often find him at the stove stirring away, using up all our butter and parmesan. He doesn't even bother with bowls any longer; he enjoys it so much he can be found laying on the couch, with the saucepan resting on his stomach as he eats right out of it while watching TV. Truly comfort food. And truly nothing that should scare anyone away - except, perhaps affronted Italians!
Read on for my hated food:

My hated food:
Cabbage with Cumin
Now, finding something I really hated to eat was more difficult. I really enjoy all foods and am willing to try nearly everything. I don't hate anything really and in fact, I love a lot of things that many lesser souls find repulsive; my own boyfriend can't even be in the same room as me if I have a lump of stinky, gooey blue cheese. Hmph - all the more for me, anyway! I love all cheeses, the stinkier and mouldier the better, I adore haggis (it's just like spicy hamburger meat!) especially with buttery neeps & tatties, raw pickled fish, anchovies by the handful, crispy blood pudding, bitter endives, andouilette sausage bursting with offal...in fact I'm really starting to get into offal and ordering plates of things like ox tongue or pigs trotters when I'm out- often to people's horror. I even ate a plate of pigs blood and rice with my father on the tiny Pacific island of Yap. In fact, in writing this I kind of feel I've introduced the opposite thesis to what Jeffrey Steingarten did in The Man Who Ate Everything, where he lists his food hates and how he'll address them! I think it's the sign of an open minded person, and I have little patience with neurotic, obsessive types afraid of unfamiliar food. I guess I could go out and try witchetty grubs in the outback, but unless I hooked up with the Bush Tucker Man or a group of local Aboriginies, I can't see that happening any time soon.
But, there is one particular ingredient, one little spice, one thing used in tiny quantities that will turn me away immediately. If I spy it on a restaurant menu I'll immediately eliminate that dish from my shortlist.....and no, it's not cabbage.
It's cumin.
I just can't stand it. I don't know why I have this inordinate hatred of it, but it's been around ever since my mother would steam pumpkin and sprinkle it with cumin seeds. Even then I hated it.
And you know what it smells like? Ok, people with more delicate dispositions might want to cover their eyes here:


I'm so sorry. I just had to say it. I get a whiff of cumin seeds and immediately I'm transported to the toilets at my old all-girls' school. A disgusting image, I know, but I just can't help it.
Where did this come from? I don't know of anyone else who has such a strong reaction to cumin. Sure, they might acknowledge it has a strong smell, but they never turn green and screw up their nose. And I don't like that I'm like this! I don't like being the type off food-phobic person people roll their eyes about! I don't like immediately discrediting perfectly interesting and tasty-sounding dishes from menus because cumin is mentioned; especially now as Moroccan/North African food is so popular here.

So, it's time to address this. I wanted to find a recipe that showed cumin off in its true light. Sure there are lots of curry/tagine/stew type dishes that I could have made, but I didn't want its flavour to be muted and diluted. I wante to take the full-on or not at all approach. I would CONQUER THIS SMELLY, UNDERPANTS ENEMY!
I found a perfect sounding recipe in Jill Dupleix's Very Simple Food for steamed cabbage with cumin that promised to 'turn any cabbage hater into a cabbage lover'. Nothing about turning cumin haters into cumin lovers, but I was fearless. I like cabbage, so no fear there, and the whole recipe only involved me steaming some cabbage wedges, drizzling a vinaigrette over the top and sprinkling it with cumin seeds. Easy!

I announced to my mother and grandmother that I was making cabbage with cumin as part of our dinner and they looked at me in amusement.
'But you HATE cumin!'
'Yes, I know! That's the point' I replied blithely.
I'm sure they thought I was off my rocker, but they were keen. We are all cabbage lovers; I'm sure Orangette would love us! For safety, I went out and bought some bacon so if I totally hated it, we could at least fall back on good old Aussie cabbage and bacon...mmmmm.

But, I didn't totally hate it. At least, I didn't hate the cabbage and vinaigrette part. That was very nice; tangy and refreshing. It could have done without the cumin, though ;-P. It'd be quite a nice dish without the aroma of dirty laundry. Those cumin seeds RUINED A PERFECTLY GOOD MEAL!
Mind you, I was the only one who felt that. My mum and Nan happily ate up all on their plate and said they could quite enjoy eating that more often. But it certainly didn't turn this cumin hater into a cumin lover. I offered them my little pile of cumin seeds I'd painstakingly picked off, one by one and placed in a neat little pile on the side of my plate, but they declined my magnanimous offer. I really did eat a few mouthfuls of the cabbage with cumin, but I have to admit, I failed. Maybe not a dismal failure, but still. Failure.
I'm going to keep on trying, though. This will not get the better of me!

Cabbage with Cumin
Very Simple Food, Jill Dupleix

How to turn a cabbage hater into a cabbage lover: buy the smallest, brightest, crispest and heaviest cabbage you can find, cook it quickly and serve in a vinaigrette with cumin seeds.

1 small, tight Savoy cabbage around 1kg
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp caster sugar
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp cumin seeds

Serves 4-6
Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Trim the base of the cabbage, but don't cut out the entire core as this will hold the wedges together. Cut the cabbage in half from top to bottom and then cut each half into three equal wedges. Discard the outer leaves that aren't up to scratch.
Add the salt to the boiling water and cook the cabbage wedges for 5-10 minutes or until they start to soften. Drain them well, upside down in a colander.
Whisk the olive oil, wine vinegar, sea salt and pepper together in a bowl to make a vinaigrette. Arrange the cabbages on a serving platter and spoon over the vinaigrette. Scatter with cumin seeds and serve.

Continue reading

Friday, February 18, 2005

Get some pork on your fork!

That heading is actually a line from a catchy TV advertising jingle when I was a child (also it made us schoolgirls giggle and snigger, because it sounded a bit dirty, you know!) I think it was when there was a lot of promotion for "Pork. The other white meat" during the 80s when the population were encouraged to turn away from red meat and embrace white...but pork was believed to be too fatty. Farmers started breeding leaner pork, which really didn't do much for them or their industry as leaner pork equals drier, flavourless pork. I never liked pork chops as a child, and only enjoyed roast pork for its oily crackling. So, I'm enjoying rediscovering pork and learning how to cook it so it doesn't dry out.
I firmly believe that pork doesn't have to be cooked well-done, as is so widely believed, in order to kill all the 'worms and germs' (!!). We live in a modern, industrialised, health-consious country, and it's been a while since pork was infested with worms. My mum totally disagrees with me on this point and won't consider pork cooked medium. But it tastes so much better when it hasn't been attacked by heat and turned into fibrous string.

I decided I wanted Asian style pork, perhaps coated with hoisin sauce and served with the bok choy we have in the fridge. Then I remembered Jill Dupleix had a recipe idea just like that in her 'Take Three' book, which I've raved about previously. I dicovered her pork was actually lamb, and I didn't have one or two of her ingredients but decided it'd work just as well with what I had.
I quickly marinated the pork chop and set the bok choy to lightly steam. When I added the pork chop to the smoking pan there was great hiss and sizzle, and the sugar in the marinade started caramelising and forming a gorgeous crust. I placed the chop on the steamed bok choy and drizzled some reserved marinade on top, then added some fresh coriander and chili.
Now I don't know where I got this idea from, but I then plopped a fried egg on top and drizzled it with some hoisin sauce. This really topped off the whole experience; the slight bitterness of the greens, with the sweet/salty pork and the soft egg yolk drizzling through made it taste wonderful; and it really was perfect. Just what I wanted, as I sat at the kitchen table, in singlet and sarong after a hot day, and good book in my other hand. Come to think of it, I often see dishes in Vietnamese restaurants which have pork chops sitting on broken rice, topped with a fried egg, so it seems I haven't created a new taste sensation at all!

I've included the original Jill Dupleix recipe below, but keep in mind that her recipes really are more meal ideas, and completely open to being altered and modified to what you have at hand. So, feel free to substitute and improvise, as I did!

Lamb, Hoisin and Greens
Sweet scorched lamp chops with the flavour of a Cantonese roast meats stall, served with crisp Chinese broccoli.

Main players:
8 or 12 well-trimmed (Frenched) lamb chops
3 Tbsp hoi sin sauce
1 Chinese broccoli (or bok choy)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 tsp five spice powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame oil

Combine hoi sin, soy sauce, sugar, rice wine, five-spice powder and salt and a large bowl and add the lamb chops. Leave to marinate for 1 hour, turning once or twice.(or 10 minutes if you're hungry and impatient)
Heat the grill or BBQ (or heavy frypan). Drain the chops and cook, turning once or twice. The outer meat will scorch as the sugars caramelise-which is good-but be wary of burning, and remove the chops while the lamb is still pink and tender inside.
Meanwhile, cook the washed, chopped greens in simmering, salted water for 2 minutes, or until they soften. Remove and drain in a colander.
Arrange a neat layer of stems on four warmed serving plates, and top with leaves. Drizzle the greens with sesame oil, lean 2 or 3 lamb chops against them and serve.


Continue reading

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Pies from our favourite kitchen appliance

Well....favourite along with the food processor, deep fryer, steamer, George Foreman grill etc.etc.etc. but this is really right up there. It's a small pie-maker (pictured below) that makes a quick, yummy meal. We turn on the maker, which is pretty small and compact, and within about 5-10 minutes have steaming hot pies with light, crispy pastry. Yummy!
We use frozen puff pastry we keep in the freezer; one sheet makes the base and top for two pies, which is enough for a meal. Both the top and bottom of the pie maker get very hot, so both the base and lid become really crispy and flaky. And we fill them with anything and everything in the fridge - leftover vegetables, meat, potatoes, eggs & cheese (mmmm!), fruit, chocolate, whatever. One of our favourites is a can of Heinz Braised Steak and Onion, which sounds kind of embarrassing, but makes a really fantastic meat pie...god, that really sounds like the Aussie version of trashy food! Just put a beer in the other hand and the image is complete!
They're a great portable meal for when you have to eat on the run, or in the car on the way somewhere...just be careful when you bite in...exploding hot pies are messy and very hot!
The one below I filled with a can of tuna with sweet chilli, Mersey Valley vintage cheddar cheese (really soft and crumbly) and cooked green beans. And I ate it in front of the tv while watching the Food Channel. Mmm...have pie and tv. Am happy.

Continue reading

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Finally; that music meme!

Hehe! What a great image I found; how appropriate! Sorry to those who tagged me for this meme (namely Zarah Maria and Johanna) for taking so long getting to do it. I'm not allowed internet access at work, as I'm working on a big, nasty, possible court case for a big, nasty, global chemical company, and as I'm privy to "sensitive information" I'm not allowed access to the real world. Like, whatever. As if I'm going to send anonymous notes to the newspapers. How draconian! How authoritarian! Then when I get home I'm exhausted, and usually have to go out again for a rehearsal or something and then home to bed, ready for another day surrounded by silent, frowning, non-toilet-going men. But I'm here now, so here 'tis!

What's the total amount of music files on your computer?
It's about 3GB at the moment, or 2.6 days worth of music, according to iTunes. I received an iPod for Christmas, hence the large (and growing number) of MP3s. Actually, if you count the stuff in my brother's files, the total amount on the computer would be closer to 6 GB; quite a bit.

What was the last CD you bought?
I ordered a CD last week, but I don't think that quite counts, so I'm pretty sure it was just before Christmas. I bought the Scissor Sisters album, Paris Combo 'Living Room' and a recording of Dvorak String Serenades; the last two were a present for a friend who made our Christmas pudding (a Roux brothers recipe!), and posted it down from Canberra, but didn't want payment!

What were you last listening to before you received this message?
Well, it was a while ago, so I'll answer what I am listening to right now which is a recording of composer Arvo Part's latest large work Kanon Pokajanen or 'Canon of Repentance', for which my vocal ensemble are giving the first Australian performance, broadcast live across the nation, just before Easter. I've been at a rehearsal for it tonight and am still trying to get my tongue around the text, which is in Church Slavonic!!! - not a language familiar to many any more! It's almost impossible to get some of the sounds out; seriously, we have 'syllables' such as : 'instv', 'vskorye', 'tvey' & 'shchu' printed underneath one note! How?? The sounds I make sometime make me burst into laughter; I sound like a bad actor trying to put on a Russian accent!
But it's a pretty mesmerising work; the type that would be perfect to perform in a dark, candlelit, incense-filled Orthodox church.

Read on for more...

Write down 5 songs that you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.
Just 5 songs is far too difficult, so I'm going to list 5 albums that mean a lot or have influenced me:

Paris Combo Living Room
The most incredible French cafe jazz-type group. Original and amazingly talented. This album is just spectacular; you can't help but smile and sing along trying to match the rapid-fire French delivery of Belle du Berry's cheeky, original lyrics. And the brilliant trumpeter is Australian! If you close your eyes you can imagine being in a little Parisian cafe.
My friend loaned me this album for a drive I took with A. to Adelaide about 2 years ago, before we were a couple. We were both blown away by it, and didn't return it for months. To me, it's the soundtrack of an amazing, long car trip in which we chatted and really got to know each other... It wasn't long after that we got together!
I recommend this group to everybody, or buy them their own copy (see latest CD bought above)! It just everything good music should be.

The Smiths The Queen Is Dead
A friend I met on the internet gave me a cassette tape with this album, standing at King's Cross Station in London just before I caught the train to Heathrow and back to Australia and he to Cambridge to start university. It wasn't until back in Melbourne that I listened to it and totally fell for the unique sound of the 80s British group The Smiths. It didn't come out of my car's cassette player for months and I still class this as one of my favourite albums ever. Sad, depressing, uplifting, humourous; with excellent lyrics and melodies. The best Smiths album.

The Whitlams Eternal Nightcap
A brilliant Australian band - slightly alternative, with amazing songs. This was an album I listened to over and over during a 'difficult' period during my university days. They're a Sydney band, but have a song called "Melbourne" in which they sing of how much they love that 'rainy city'; you've gotta love that. Outstanding Australian talent, and something I always go back to; each time I hear it I'm reminded of how much I enjoy this group.
If you have a chance, click on the link and listen to the first song "No Aphrodisiac"; it's a stunner. (There's no aphrodisiac like loneliness...)

Pablo Pablo (samples available)
Pablo (website) is a vocal group of 5 male voices comprised of boys I have known for years. All talented, spunky Aussie blokes who sing really well. I've sung classically with all of them, and have been an enthusiastic groupie of their boy band almost since it began at a backyard BBQ in the late 90s. Their success has greatly increased and they are currently finalists in Australia's talent competition "The X Factor" . They released a CD a few years ago, and it's definitely one of my favourites. Their version of Billy Joel's "And so it goes" reduced me to tears at the CD launch and it's a CD I play for lots of people.

JS Bach, St Matthew Passion Collegium Vocale, Gent; Philippe Herreweghe .
This is the recording that turned me into a Bach fanatic when at uni and inspired the topic for my research thesis. Prior to this I had always maintained that I hated Bach; it was so boring, messy and repetitious. Many people had tried to sway this convictions without success, but it wasn't until I heard this recording that I 'saw the light'. I realise now that people had been trying to convince me by playing recordings of Bach with enormous choral societies and symphony orchestras; no wonder it sounded so messy and mushy to me! This is Bach performed as we understand his 'authentic performance practice' to be; reduced orchestra, period instruments, small vocal ensemble, Baroque tuning and pure, unaffected soloists. No slow dirges here! This is the only way I will listen to Bach now; it's rare to hear a full-blown Bach performance these days, anyway (thank goodness). Performances like this allow you to really hear the beauty and craftmanship of the music.
I'm actually performing the St Matthew Passion the day after the Arvo Part premiere....that's going to be a shocker of a weekend!

Of course, I probably should put in some mention of the fabulous, wonderful, spectacular, just-bewdy recording my vocal ensemble released for their European tour last year, but that'd be really sad and pathetic, wouldn't it?? ;-)

Who are you going to pass this on to?

Nobody. I think everyone has been tapped by now, and if they haven't posted they are not interested, too short of time or embarrassed by their CD collection! I'm probably wrong, but this thread is going to end here! :-)

Continue reading

Saturday, February 12, 2005

SHF Puff Pastry: The Great Aussie Vanilla Sliceoff

Vanilla slice is one of those quintessentially Aussie culinary traditions. It's status as Great Aussie sweet is probably only rivalled by lamingtons, and it is so important that there is actually a Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph competition held each year by the "Baking Industry Association of Victoria" (true!); competitors fly in their entries from around the country and the winners go to huge lengths advertising their success with large signs and placards outside their shops. The towns (for it is always small country towns that win; being the vanguards they are of traditional Aussie cuisine) even put up billboards on the highway as you drive into the town - WINNER - AUSTRALIA'S BEST VANILLA SLICE 1987! or some similar thing. I tell you, it's big stuff down here.
Basically, they're a very simple arrangement of pastry base, thick custard, a pastry lid and some type of icing. Debate rages fiercely over the type of appropriate icing. There is a great fondness at the moment for the sifted icing sugar camp, which I really don't like, as it always results in the first bite sending the entire icing sugar blanket to decorate your chest. Another camp plumps for the plain fondant icing, whilst a third camp promotes the use of passionfruit icing (my personal favourite. How more Aussie can you get than passionfruit icing on a vanilla slice? I mean, come on!)
I have to admit I'm not a huge fan of vanilla slices, though- perhaps it started at school when the vanilla slices sold in the tuckshop were made with awful cardboard pastry and even more awful solid urine-yellow custard set hard like jelly. The only thing I liked was the thick fondant icing on top. Even now, with most vanilla slices sold in bakeries being of the creamy custard variety, as seen above, I just can't take too much too them. Sure they're creamy and unctious - but there's just not enough flavour for the huge amount of goop. If they were more strongly flavoured (alcoholic, or chocolate perhaps) I might be more keen. I'm not a huge fan of custard anyway, but I know A. just LOVES any type of sweety pastry thing filled with it - doughnuts, danishes, profiteroles etc. So, with this challenge of puff pastry, I chose to make something for him. This one's for you, A.!
Read on for more!

The incredible thing is that the day I came home from work with the ingredients to start making my vanilla slice, I found my mother just returned from a few days down the coast, bearing a paper bag filled with amazing vanilla slices! Apparently the town she was in had just won the Vanilla Slice Triumph for the year and the locals were going crazy. The very day I had planned to make them!
I decided to go ahead, as I had promised a dessert for a lunch with friends on Saturday, and I still wanted to give A. a large slab of slice.
I went ahead and made mine, and held my own mini Australian Vanilla Slice triumph. Only two contendors, but still - I feel I'm doing my part in upholding traditional Austrlian moral values and all that. Whilst the commercial one was definitely impressive, it suffered for its blanket of icing sugar which exploded over my jeans, and a distinct commercial (chemical) taste of cheap vanilla in its (admittedly very creamy & excellent) custard. It had a slight layer of jam on the bottom pastry slice, which was an amusing little diversion, but didn't guarantee it any extra points in my book. My slice had far superior custard, as I used expensive vanilla extract and real milk, and it had the obvious advantage of a layer of tangy passionfruit icing. My pastry wasn't as good, however; if I made my own puff pastry it might have improved it. I declared my homemade version a bold winner in terms of taste...
..........the photo you see above isn't actually of the slice I made. Mainly because, although mine was far superior in taste to the commercial one, it was also FAR inferior in photogenic quality! My custard didn't set properly and I couldn't slice it. At all. Maybe I should have cooked it longer? Who knows? I certainly don't. I ended up serving bowls of custard with pastry lids and passionfruit icing, which was still tasty, but not quite what I had in mind. Luckily my friends only laughed with me rather than at me at my kitchen disaster. But, the photo at least gives you an idea of what gets Australian country women so excited. ;-)

Vanilla Custard Slice

(Women's Weekly Cookbook - 1978)
This book is so dated it still has quantities in the old imperial measurements, which made it a real pain to convert. I've included both, so I can accommodate both US & UK style cooking!

10 oz. puff pastry (284 g)
1 3/4 pints milk (~900 ml)
3/4 cup sugar
2 oz. butter (56 g)
1/2 cup cornflour
4 tablespoon custard powder
1/4 pint milk, extra (142 ml)
1 egg
1 dessertspoon vanilla

Roll out pastry thinly, cut out two 10 inch (25 cm) squre; place on ungreased oven tray, bake in very hot oven approximately 15 minutes. Cool, trium to make two 8 inch (20 cm) squares. Place one layer on base of greaseproof paper-lined 8 inch square cake tin.
Place milk, sugar, butter in a large saucepan. Blend cornflour and custard powder with extra milk; add to saucepan, bring to boil, stirring until smooth and thick. Remove from heat, beat in vanilla and egg. While still hot, pour over later of pastry, pressing down firmly. Cool, top with passionfruit icing. Refrigerate until firm; cut in slices.

Passionfruit icing
1.5 cups pure icing mixture
juice 3-4 passionfruit (or 1 small tin of John West passionfruit in syrup)
1 teaspoon butter.

Continue reading

Thursday, February 10, 2005

An excellent quick dessert

For when you've been eating your dinner while watching the cooking channel and getting that feeling of "I've just gotta have dessert!". But, when you're trying to be sensible and not overindulge during the week, what can you do? Well, it's pretty easy in my house right now - we don't keep chocolate or biscuits in the house (a wise move, in my opinion), but it's summer and we have lots of fresh fruit.
Grilled fresh stone fruit are the taste of summer to me. The grilling softens it and intensifies the flavour and juices. When it's sprinkled with some sugar it caramelises and makes a little toffee sauce. And then when you add some nuts, it makes something amazing.
I found me a perfectly ripe peach, which split itself into two and gave up its pip without any argument. I initially filled the cavity with chopped walnuts and sprinkled sugar over the top, but after putting it under the griller I realised the walnuts were starting to burn before the sugar had started melting. Oops! So I attempted peach surgery with a fork, which was a failure. Instead I dived in with my fingers and naturally burnt them (it'll be a long time before I get asbestos fingers). So, my sugar caramelised and I removed the peaches and sprinkled them with the walnuts - which had turned into gorgeous walnut brittle from the bits of sugar that melted around before I removed them.
It was the perfect quick, 'healthy' dessert. In fact, it was so good I actually licked my plate clean! (shhh don't tell anyone).

Continue reading

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

French gourmet dinner: 7th & 8th courses

Click on for more photos of decadent, rich desserts, pastries and incredible chocolate truffles!

Click here for the full menu extravaganza!

These are the final photos from the grand French dinner I helped at recently (thank God, you're thinking! Haven't they eaten enough??). Yep, there were eight courses, and everyone needed wheelbarrows to wheel their stomachs out of the house when it was over.
The proper dessert course was a Charlotte aux poires - coulis de framboise(delicate chilled dessert of sliced poached pear, sponge fingers soacked in armagnac and pear liqueur, a fresh pear puree with vanilla cream; served with a vanilla custard cream and a raspberry sauce). This dish was modelled one served at Lucas-Carton in Paris and Robert & I had a grand time decorating it in the most lavish, completely over-the-top, decadent way. More whipped cream? - but of course! And a little more on the plate too! A mint leaf here? Why not, and put a few more nearby while you're at it! I have to admit, that the baby pear plonked on top in a garish imitation of a centrepiece was my kitschy idea and it made me burst into hysterical laughter. Doesn't it just look like a dumpy old woman propped up there surveying the scenery??
The dessert, despite looking like it could sink like a lead balloon, was actually very light and a perfect, refreshing end to a very large, lengthy meal. Robert made the custard with real vanilla seeds (but, of course) and I felt the raspberry coulis really lifted the dessert; without it I think it may have been a little one-dimensional.
After that Robert made coffee (he even brought along special coffee had had sourced for the occasion) and served home-made truffles and pastries. These were absolutely the best truffles I have tasted IN MY LIFE! I know I've written just recently about Melbourne's best truffles, but they were the best you could buy. These are the best I HAVE EVER TASTED IN MY LIFE! I dream about these truffles! After I handed out my canapes early in the evening, and was considering whether I'd stay on to help Robert, it was actually the thought that I might get to taste another chocolate truffle that swayed the argument - they really were that good! I fervently wished I could take some leftovers home, but they were guarding them with their life. Robert had made 3 types of truffles: bitter dark chocolate infused with mint, rolled in white chocolate (gorgeous, rich but refreshing end to the meal), a Cointreau truffle tossed in cocoa powder and, the one I fell in love with most, a coffee and walnut truffle - this was mind-blowingly stunning. The coffee flavour was subtle, almost just a hint behind the dark chocolate, and the walnuts studded throughout tasted caramelised and crispy. I don't know how he did it, but that is something I have to recreate one day. Goodness I'm getting all worked up thinking about them!
Superfluous to our needs, and left largely uneaten (as we were all gorging on truffles) were some pastries from an excellent Melbourne pasticceria (Brunetti's - just off Lygon Street in Carlton, and home to Melbourne's best Italian hot chocolate). We had small cannolis and a few babas au rhum - which are sponge shapes completely soaked in rum syrup. Very sickly sweet, and a perfect complement to bitter espresso coffee (when you're not gorging on truffles after an 8 course French meal!).
Thus ends the amazing French gourmet dinner, at which I was privileged to help. It was an incredible experience, and we're still talking about it. In fact, we've decided we'd like to raffle another one to raise funds for our next European tour. The amazing thing is that Robert is happy to do it all again!!!

Continue reading

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Shrove Tuesday: Pancakes in a hurry

Today I started a new job in the city...and today is Shrove Tuesday. Not a perfect combination for pancakes. Perhaps I should explain....I am now one of those depressed looking peak-hour commuters on the train, leaving stupidly early and arriving home too late. Combine this with a musical schedule that tends to involve rehearsals or meetings nearly every night of the week, and you don't have a lot of time when you get home. Bah!
Anyway, I started today and was feeling a bit lost and lonely. I didn't know anybody and had a empty desk in a corner of the room, hidden behind shelves, so had nobody to speak to - and am doing a pretty tedious job. I'm surrounded by very intense men who just seem to stare intensely at their computers and don't seem to take any toilet or lunch breaks. I think they're robots! After a desultory lunch at my desk, which left me hungry (tinned soup is not only yuck, but not nearly filling enough on a cold, rainy day), I couldn't wait to get home.
A. was in a similar situation, having started a new job yesterday and still feeling a bit lost and lonely. We both don't have access to email, so frantically exchanged text messages at lunch, reminding each other that we had to make pancakes tonight before rehearsal. Yay! After all, you can't not have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras/Pancake Day!
Well, we messed up our train connections, and got to our station later than preferred, then had to walk 20 minutes home (no car today) to find we had all of 1 hour at home before we had to leave again. Yippee! Welcome to the world of full-time commuter life.
We were pretty resouceful in our 1 hour. Not only did we watch most of an episode of Dr Who while we collapsed on the couch with a bowl of curry, but while I got changed A. started preparing pancake batter. I came down to find him hard at work with bowls and eggs and blenders and frypans going wild...and I was so grateful to let him take over. What you see above is him in full-flight - 2 pans on the go ready to be doused in lemon juice and sprinkled with caster sugar or, the great Australian favourite, slathered in CSR Golden Syrup. Mmmmmm...
Now it's time to get some sleep, otherwise I'll feel suitably shriven!

Continue reading

Monday, February 07, 2005

French gourmet dinner: 5th & 6th courses

Full menu here
So, now we're up to the real meat-and-potatoes of it all...or in this case pheasant, champagne and rice. This was a very rich dish, that to me, was a perfect main course for a decadent French meal. The description for the Faisan a la creme was roasted pheasant served with a rich champagne cream sauce, grapes macerated with orange zest, a savoury rice pilaff and a croustade of duck pate with red currant jelly, based on Lasserre and La Tour d'Argent restaurants, in Paris.
Robert ordered the pheasant through the poultry suppliers at the market, but forgot to tell them he really wanted the frozen birds. He says they are a superior quality as they are hung for a few days before being frozen, which makes them more tender and fully flavoured. But when he went to pick them up he found them beside themselves with pride and excitement...they had found him fresh pheasant! Just shot yesterday! Wasn't he excited? Well....no. He wasn't excited, but he didn't want to burst their bubble. He took them home and roasted them and...yep, they turned out dry, as he expected. So, that's why they're covered in so much rich sauce. I wasn't very impressed with the taste of the pheasant actually; I couldn't taste anything different from a fairly bland chicken breast. Being that pheasants are $24 each (about 3 times as much as a chicken), I don't think I'll be putting in an order anytime soon!
My favourite part of this meal was the amazing rice served with it - it was moist, fluffy and had a gorgeous flavour (from cooking it in shallots softened in French butter, apparently). That and the duck pate with croutons we served with it....ooooh they were fab!
The cheeses were all donated from the French cheese stall at the same market, which was an incredibly generous thing to do. We had a Swiss Emmental, a French goats chevre, an Australian blue and a French d'Affinois, which was like a very well ripened brie (easily the favourite on the night). They were served on large fig leaves, in the style of restaurant Les Pres d'Eugenie where Robert once spent far too much money on a very light lunch. They were served with a huge platter of fresh and dried fruit and another platter of crackers, nuts and fruit bread. Despite all the guests groaning in agony when they saw all the cheeses after their previous 5 courses, and knowing they still had two dessert courses to go, they polished off nearly everything on all the platters! I was extremely surprised! Speaks volumes for the quality of the food. Figs with soft creamy d'Affinois, dates and the chevre, fruit bread and the blue cheese...mmmm.

The fabulous cheese - easily the best cheese platter I've tried.

Nuts, breads and amazingly good grapes, with the French butter I got to take home.

A veritable banquet of fresh fruits. I loved this platter - to me it looked like something someone would have painted in the Renaissance. A still life of perfectly formed fruit. The apricots and blackcurrant grapes in particular were outstanding. I really should eat more fruit from the market rather than the supermarkets...you can easily forget how spectacular fruit can taste.

Continue reading

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Melbourne's BEST chocolate truffles

These are Melbourne's BEST chocolate truffles. No argument. No discussion entered into. I've certainly tried quite a few in my life, and sampled those which are supposed to be the best or the most expensive (note: these two things usually go together).
Last year, when I returned to study, my campus was in the busiest shopping street in Melbourne's CBD. My friends and I took to exploring the laneways and arcades when we'd have a free 30 minutes (which wasn't often enough!). During winter we started a quest to find Melbourne's best hot chocolate, which is how we found this place. Well, it was a bit hard to avoid; it is possibly Melbourne's most high profile chocolatier, at the moment. Based on that, I was pretty certain I'd be disappointed. High profile doesn't necessarily mean high quality, and that belief certainly fit for their overpriced, over-hyped hot chocolate, but these truffles...ohmygawd! Scoops of bitter dark chocolate ganache are coated in a thin shell of dark chocolate and tossed in cocoa and make the most incredibly decadent treat. They're quite bitter, and I don't think they'd be popular with kiddies, or people whose idea of chocolate bliss is a Freddo Frog. But to taste the bitter powder of the cocoa on your tongue, to break through the shell and taste the quality of the ganache and the hint of vanilla is to know what sublime chocolate bliss is like. These s*** on all other contendors from a great height! And they're not even too expensive; packets of 4 are $4, so (obviously) equals $1 each, which is only a few cents more than a Lindt ball.
The chocolatier is Koko Black - the licensed Belgian chocolate lounge in the Royal Arcade, just off the Bourke Street Mall. If you're really lucky, you can get a table upstairs and watch the crowds below.
The truffles in the photos didn't hold up too well on the trip home, and got a but squooshy. I couldn't decide which photo I liked better, so I had to include them both. Any suggestions? Which one do you like better?

Continue reading

Saturday, February 05, 2005

French Gourmet dinner: 2nd & 3rd & 4th courses

For the full menu, click here.
As I'm sitting here I'm watching "Iron Chef" and giggling at tonight's Carrot Battle! It's hard to believe it's been a week since the gourmet dinner, at which I helped, and I'm only up to courses 2 & 3.

So, here are photos of the dinner's second and third and fourth courses.
First off, above, we have the Fantaisie de crustaces en bolero, which was a sumptuous collection of seafood in a tangy sauce based on sour cream. Robert's description was: bite-sized pieces of fresh prawn, crap and lobster on a tangy herbed sour-cream sauce, with apple, avocado and tomato. The apple, avocado and tomato is where I came in, as I spent a large part of the afternoon with a miniscule baller implement scooping it itsy-bitsy balls of tomato and apple. Actually, I left the avocado to Robert, as it was a bit soft...and even he gave up after a short while, proclaiming it too difficult! This balling experience certainly added to my sore shoulders at the end of the night.
This seafood dish was a really perfect way to begin a big dinner on a warm Summer's night - it was so light & tangy, it really made your tastebuds spring into action.

Above is the 3rd course: Salade tiede a la gourmande, which was a warm salad of baby spinach leaves and roquette tossed with walnut oil, mustard, and balsamic vinegar, with bacon slivers, grilled quail meat, pine nuts, garlic croutons, green beans and enoki mushrooms. I actually had very little to do with this course, apart from carrying it out to the diners...I can't remember what I was doing at the time, but it must have been important. I did get to take the leftover quail home from this, as Robert only used the breasts. I managed a sneaky taste of this, and the combination of the crisp cool vegetables was perfectly offset by the salty, oily bacon, which was, in turn, comlemented by the vinegar, crunchy croutons and nuts and meaty quail. I forgot to take a photo of this before we carried it out, so had to elbow my way in after they had started eating...hence the fork!

The three previous courses, despite being quite light, were enough to warrant the inclusion of a refreshing, palate-enlivening sorbet, and a walk around the block before the next course, which was a heavier meaty dish with sauces. This sorbet was made with melon and apricot and "enlivened" with the aniseet liqueur, Pernod. Actually, this caused a few last minute moments of panic as when we tasted it not long before we left we decided the Pernod flavour was too overpowering and needed to be softened. Robert decided to add some lemon juice which improved the taste, but disturbed the texture, making it too soft and slushy. We threw it back into the freezer and hoped for the best. When the time came to serve it, we waited until last minute to take it out of the freezer and instructed them to eat it straight away! I loved this sorbet and would enjoy it for a light dessert.

There's still another 4 courses to come...don't go anywhere!

Continue reading

Friday, February 04, 2005

Weather report

The weather certainly has been wild here. Not long after my last post the power went out across a lot of the city. Over here it was because trees had been knocked over into power lines, due to the gale-force winds. Not only was it the coldest February day on record, but it was the wettest day in recorded history; that is the wettest day in 150 years! We received 120mm rain in 24 hours (the February average is about 48 mm for the month!) Chaos was everywhere; the city was flooded, most trains and trams were cancelled, beaches swept away, students told not to come to school, roads awash. The rain and wind were strong enough to strip paint off doors. We spent a sleepless night, first unable to sleep because of the sound of the wind, then when we lost power running moving items in our flooding garage; our pump can't work without power! Then our fire and smoke alarms went haywire, and we couldn't stop them shrieking and wailing. Finally, after getting some sleep at about 7am, we discovered we would be without internet and television all day, as the cables were damaged. Disaster!! The tidy up will take many weeks, and our gratitude has to be extended to the excellent volunteer State Emergency Service, who have been working flat out for days.
There are some really scary and fantastic images here.
And you know what? It's going to be 30 degrees and sunny on Monday. Just crazy.
Here's an interesting article about how the storm will affect our fruit and seafood availability.

Continue reading

Thursday, February 03, 2005

What's going on with our weather?!

Update on our crazy weather:
Lashing rain and bracing winds as Melbourne experiences its coldest February day on record. Read about it here: From Smokin' to Soakin'
The weather today has been completely crazy. As I mentioned it was 35 degrees yesterday, and I was happily cooling off in the pool...as you do over summer. But last night the clouds rolled in and a rain band has been stationary over Melbourne for over a day.
For an ENTIRE day and night it HAS NOT STOPPED RAINING. Not a break. Nothing. Constant rain. Flooding, car accidents, calls to emergency services. For most of the day the temperature struggled to reach 10 degrees, finally "peaking" at 12.9. Melbournians, who only yesterday were in singlets and sandals at the beach were in overcoats and scarves today, or trying to stay indoors by the heater. I went out wearing gloves and a fluffy scarf...something I didn't expect to be doing until at least May! Maybe we're trying to empathise with our Northern wintery neighbours, in some bizarre sense of solidarity? This is totally crazy. What's going on with the world?? I know we asked for a cool change but...bring us back our summer! We didn't really mean it! We were actually quite enjoying it!

Continue reading

Gourmet Dinner 1st course: Canapes assortis

Read about the menu here:

Apologies for the quality of these pictures; they were taken at the house before we loaded everything in the car to take to the dinner party. As we were serving these canapes as soon as we arrived, I took them fully prepared, which was quite an ordeal. I was never entirely certain that they'd arrive with each strategically placed peppercorn still in place or all the caviar still inside the tart cases...as it is, I'm still brushing off bits of minced egg yolk and crumbs off the front seat!
The artistic construction of the canapes was my reponsibility and what you see above and below are the result of an entire afternoon of shoulder-aching, eye-straining pedantic work. But they tasted incredible! Robert had bought everything before hand, made up the individual butters, and presented me with a diagram of how he wanted each to look, and what toppings went with which butters etc.
So, what do we have here?

Above, we have the canapes served on toasted wholewheat/sourdough bread. From left to right:
Westphalian ham on mustard butter, topped with black peppered pineapple and chopped continental parsley (a fancy pants version of a Hawaiian pizza!)
Smoked salmon & horseradish butter, topped with capers and tarragon
Smoked trout mousse with green peppercorns, orange and chervil
Venison terrine with homemade pickled cherries & watercress (these cherries were amazing. They tasted like the Renaissance! Robert said it was due to all the spices - cloves, cinnamon etc.)
Underneath we have small pastry tartlets filled with:
Lumpfish caviar on anchovy butter with lemon and minced egg yolk
Salmon caviar on lemon butter with lemon, tarragon and minced egg white

These canapes were all very well received by the appreciative guests as they washed them down with champagne and sparkling shiraz (a uniquely Australian drink, I think!) and I marvelled at how an afternoon's work could be devoured in about 10 minutes....heh. Such is the life of a caterer (even if I was one only for a day)

Continue reading

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Perhaps I'm missing something ?

This is the brand of French butter I was given to take home with me after the dinner party on the weekend. I was so eager to try it, as I've heard so much about the quality and taste of French DOC butters.....but I wonder if I'm missing something? Ok, I acknowledge I much prefer the taste of salted butter, so I knew to be at a disadvantage, but I really couldn't taste anything special about this. I really tried...I put all my taste sensations and intellect into play and I still thought it tasted...meh. I tried it plain on good bread. I tried it sprinkled with some Maldon sea flakes on good bread. I tried it with bread and ham. I tried it with bread, salt flakes and ham. I tried it on dry crackers, with salt and without and still...There was an interesting, slighly soured aftertaste, but other than that I can't see justification in spending four times as much on a small block of it.
Perhaps we're really fortunate and have excellent quality butter here in Australia? It's certainly a possibility, as the quality of a lot of our produce is excellent. Butter is not very cheap here; we generally pay ~$1.40 for a 250gram block, but perhaps we're paying for quality. Who knows?
But for the near future I'll be happily sticking to my Western Star Salted. :-)
PS - I have to make mention of the fact that yesterday it was 35 degrees and I had to go swimming in our pool twice during the day to cool down. Ok, that's fine. It's summer. But today? Today is bucketing down with rain and is currently 10 degrees! 10! You can verify it here! That's what it is on a cold winter's day here! I'm sitting at this desk in polar fleece and fluffy slippers with a heater on my legs! Yes, this is Melbourne and we love it....

Continue reading

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A Gourmet Dinner for Summer from the Great Restaurants of France

A Gourmet Dinner for Summer Composed of Dishes from the Great Restaurants of France, and served with Fine Australian Wines.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to assist in the presentation of a formal French dinner party, the likes of which I, nor any of the diners had experienced before. To assist my vocal ensemble in raising money to tour Europe last year a friend of the group offered to provide his services in preparing and hosting a formal dinner, composed of dishes from excellent French restaurants in the winner's own home - wines and washing up provided too! This person is no random schmo from our audience, but a former restauranteur who ran a French restaurant here in Melbourne during the 1980s, before going on to pursue a myriad of other careers, including living in Paris, working for the UN in Saudi-Arabia during the Gulf War and lecturing in linguistics in Canberra (where, coincidentally, he was A's tutor at university!). He has written theses on French & British cuisine during the Medieval and Tudor periods, and sometimes turns up to church with some meal he happened to whip up that afternoon. He's happy to cater for such events to keep himself in practice...I'd be thrilled to have him cater a meal for a group of my friends!
As it happened, the winner of the prize was a member of the choir and she invited the other members of the tour committee to enjoy the event with her. I had made noises about being happy to help with preparations, and last week received a phone call from Robert, who had begun his preparations. Would I be interested in coming along on the afternoon of the party and assist with a few things? Sheesh! Of course I would!
Robert went out shopping for all ingredients himself at various markets and shops, and had managed to get all the wines donated by a selection of wine stores. Some of them didn't quite fit the description of "fine" wines, but the fact there are companies willing to donate for such an event is impressive in itself.
I turned up to Robert's house in the afternoon and found him surrounded by pots and pans, finishing off the last of the preparations. We passed an enjoyable afternoon making canapes and garnishes, occasionally getting distracted by tasting some concoction he had whipped up. We finally turned up, a bit late, to our friend's house where the 6 invited guests were waiting.
After a 12 hour shift on my feet (which was nothing compared to the entire week of preparations Roberts had enjoyed), with tired, aching muscles and the frustration that come from individual peppercorns not sticking in their proper little lines, or tiny balls of tomato needing to be placed "just so", I'm certain that a career in catering is not something I'll be jumping to do. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, but I can't say I'd like to do it every week! What I did enjoy most was the chef's perks of eating the leftovers and trying all the taste sensations. We allowed outselves to mop out the saucepans with chunks of bread, finish off the duck liver pate on leftover croutons, shovel random chunks of lobster and crab down our throats when nobody was looking and enjoy the last mouthfulls left in each wine bottle, before the next was opened for each course. We were even invited to join our friends at the table for the cheese course, perhaps because they were feeling bad at seeing us working in the kitchen while they were living it up, before they banished us back to the kitchen to prepare dessert. I did get a thank you present at the end of the night, which I really wasn't expecting (especially as Robert had done 99% of the work) and Robert sent me home with lots of leftovers, including 15 quails for stock, trout pate, French unsalted butter, a truckload of fresh herbs, a tin of caviar amongst others. I would have loved some of his incredible chocolate truffles, but the guests were guarding those with their life!
So, I'll be presenting in a series of posts, photos and descriptions of each course presented to the lucky six diners, but until the first post, I thought you might like to read the menu in it's entirety...it's a good one!

A Gourmet Dinner for Summer composed of dishes from the Great Restaurants of France and served with fine Australian wines:

(apologies for the lack of accents in the French titles. Blogger doesn't seems to make that sort of thing easy)

Canapes assortis (Maxim's, Paris)

Classic canapes of: salmon caviar; lumpfish caviar; smoked salmon; smoked trout pate; venison terrine; Westphalian ham
Jimmy Watson's Sparkling Brut NV
Jimmy Watson's Sparkling Shiraz NV

Fantaisie de crustaces en bolero (Jamin, Paris)
Bite-sized pieces of fresh prawns, crab and lobster on a tangy, herbed sour-cream sauce, with apple, avocado and tomato
Jim Barry's Watervale Riesling 2004

Salade tiede a la gourmande (Restaurant Pic, Valence)
A warm salad of baby spinach leaves and roquette tossed with walnut oil, mustard and balsamic vinegar, with bacon slivers, grilled quail meat, pine nuts, garlic croutons, green beans and enoki mushrooms
Taltarni Brut Tache Premium Vintae 2003

Sorbet de melon et d'abricot au Pernod (Moulin de Mougins, Mougins)
A delicate melon and apricot sorbet enlivened with Pernod

Faisan a la creme (Lasserre, Paris / La Tour d'Argent, Paris)
Roasted pheasant served with a rich champagne cream sauce, grapes macerated with orange zest, a savoury rice pilaff, and a croustade of duck pate with red currant jelly
Coldstream Hills Chardonnay Pinot Noir 1999

Fromages (presented in the style of Les Pres d'Eugenie, Eugenie-les-Bains)
A selection of Australian and imported French cheeses
Jones Winery Rutherglen Vintage Port 1984
Zema Estate Shiraz 1997

Charlotte aux poires , coulis de framboises (Lucas-Carton, Paris)
A delicate, chilled dessert of sliced poached pear, sponge fingers soaked in armagnac and pear liquor, a fresh pear puree with vanilla cream; served with a vanilla custard cream and a raspberry sauce.
Brown Brothers Patricia Noble Riesling 2000

Cafe; truffes au chocolat (basic truffle recipe from La Pyramide, Vienna)
Coffee, served with pastries and hand-made chocolate truffles.

Continue reading